The Unintended Consequences of Net Impact in Pandemic Conditions

by Meghan Butler

It feels like a cliché now to talk about all the ways the pandemic has changed our lives. “The new normal”, “unprecedented times”, and “Zoom fatigue” have become the new cringy work phrases. But even as I recognize the cliché, I still cannot help but think about how much it is true. While I could pick out any number of areas in my life that have been altered, my graduate studies and related activities are definitely at the top. As I was considering the MBA-SBP program at Duquesne University, I was filled with excitement of the new friends I would make through classes, clubs, and other experiences. But by the time I was enrolled for the start of classes last June, my expectations were considerably different. As I am sure we all did, I proceeded through the summer semester with cautious hopes that things would be normal again by fall. I was elected president of Net Impact at the end of July and once again was hoping things would be back to normal by the fall so we could participate in activities in person. But that is not quite how things turned out to be. Over our two semesters of Net Impact, we have only held one in-person event. Even though Zoom meetings are no replacement for the memories an experiences we would have had in normal conditions, my little Net Impact crew has done their best to stay engaged via Zoom. Despite this, I have felt disappointment surrounding my Net Impact experience. Partially because my fellow members and I have been robbed of a true Net Impact experience, but also because I feel I have not been able to provide a true experience for them in an online setting. But through this disappointment I have realized there has been an unintended consequence of holding Net Impact in a virtual format: breaking down geographical barriers and forming connections I likely would never have made during normal conditions.  

Reflecting on the numerous virtual events I have attended through Net Impact, there are four events that have introduced me to new people both around the country and around the world.

  • As an international organization, Net Impact brings together people from all over the world with the common goal of improving environmental and social justice in our businesses and communities. When I attended the leadership conference in the fall, it was so amazing to not only meet other American students and professionals interested in sustainability, but also people from Europe, the Middle East, and Africa who were in similar educational programs and shared similar career goals.
  • I also had the opportunity to meet a person working in California as a regenerative farmer. She is a friend of a fellow Net Impact member and talked with us about a general history of the agricultural industry and her goals and responsibilities at the farm where she is employed.
  • This February, Net Impact planned an Alumni Networking event which invited back past members of the MBA-SBP cohort to share advice on completing the program and finding  a job. I think this was an exciting opportunity for both current SBP students and alumni, as this was a great way for people to reconnect who knew each other from the previous cohorts, but also to meet new alums. I really enjoyed the chance to speak with alumni of the SBP program who are scattered all across the U.S.
  • One of our final events this spring was the Career Panel where we invited three individuals in varying sustainability fields to talk with us about their experiences. Again, I loved the opportunity to speak with professionals from different locations in the U.S. about their journey in the field of sustainability.

While I am the first to admit that my experience with Net Impact was not quite what I was hoping for, I can at least say I am grateful for the unintended consequence of making connections I am sure I would not have made during normal conditions. And even though I will definitely be ready for a break from Zoom once my program is over in May, I am excited for the prospect of who, and where, it will connect me to next.